Naive online daters turn into today’s drug mules

If you’re looking for love online, be careful of who’s out there.

One day, Sharon’s and Catherine’s online dates, called “Frank” and “Marc,” asked them to finally meet in person, but not before one last favor: going to Argentina to pick up some sensitive documents.

The two women eventually agreed, thinking their dream had finally come true.

However, the documents, hidden in a secret compartment of their luggage, turned out instead to be cocaine.

That’s how Sharon Mae Armstrong, 55, former deputy chief executive of the Maori Language Commission from New Zealand, and Catherine Blackhawk, 49, an American nurse, suddenly and unknowingly became the final links in a drug trafficking chain.

Astonished, they ended up behind bars in the same federal prison on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in April and June 2011, respectively.

Their cases reveal that dating deceits — which rose by 150 percent in 2011 alone, fraud protection agency Iovation reveals — are moving beyond the simple take-the-money-and-run scheme.

“Cartels are looking for people who clearly can’t focus properly to realize what kind of business they have been thrown into,” Claudio Izaguirre, president of the Argentine Anti-Drugs Association, told Metro.

“People like Sharon are thrown into the fray with a luggage where the cocaine is easily detectable; she is just a decoy, a scapegoat. The real mules are behind her, managing to get through while the attention falls on her,” he added.

In January of this year, a third person fell into the same cyber-trap and got caught at Buenos Aires airport: Paul Howard Frampton, 69, a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy based at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Frampton has said he was lured into meeting a woman he thought he had been chatting with on the Internet, Czech-born lingerie model Denise Milani. He was given luggage to carry by someone claiming to be Milani’s intermediary; the case had 2 kilograms of cocaine inside.

Just like Armstrong and Blackhawk, Frampton was perceived to be vulnerable and financially secure.
Julieta Lacroze, Sharon’s lawyer from Buenos Aires-based law firm Estudio Durrieu, believes they are just the tip of an iceberg, but admits it is hard to find exact figures on the dating scam trend.  

“It is easy for criminal organizations — they just have to sit down and chat,” she said. “Three months of work via the Internet, and that’s it. For 5 kilos of cocaine, it’s a fairly good deal.”

Normally, dating website rip-offs tend to go unreported due to victims feeling embarrassed or humiliated.

The unwitting drug mules detained in Argentina now fight a battle behind bars to raise awareness about their plight.

Drug smuggling 2.0

A well-educated Western professional feeling lonely and looking for a mate  on a dating website: That’s the perfect profile for the next-generation drug mule. Watch out: That seductive, sweet-talking cyber-mate might in fact just turn out to be a cover for a drug cartel in need of smugglers who are beyond suspicion.

How to dig your own grave 

Being a professional cyber-love scammer requires an outrageously creative brain. Investigators believe that the organization that tricked Sharon used her own money to pay for the whole operation: In more than four months of a virtual relationship with “Frank,” Sharon agreed to send him $20,000 in different installments via Western Union.

“Every time, he had a different excuse,” her lawyer, Lacroze, pointed out.

“Who in Argentina would ever accept to send this much money to a stranger? No one.”

Nigerian and Russian criminal organizations are infamous to experts and drug enforcement agencies around the world. Websites like Romancescam.com are dedicated to raising awareness over the issue and help people detect their scammers before it becomes too late.
 MWN



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Local

De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.